Bennet unveils $60 billion proposal for wildfire recovery, forest-management programs

By: - December 15, 2020 4:39 pm

A home west of Colo. 125 still burns from open gas lines after the East Troublesome Fire made its way through a community in October 2020. (Thomas Cooper/Special to Colorado Newsline)

Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday introduced the Outdoor Restoration Force Act, a proposal to spend more than $60 billion in new federal funding on wildfire recovery and prevention efforts on public lands across the West.

“For years, Congress has failed to invest in the outdoors — undermining our forests and watersheds, which sustain our economy and western way of life,” Bennet said in a statement. “The Outdoor Restoration Force Act begins to change that with an injection of funding to create new, good paying jobs in the outdoors, while reducing the risk of wildfire and other natural disasters.”

The bill follows widespread calls for more investment in forest-management practices after an unprecedented 2020 wildfire season destroyed hundreds of Colorado homes, choked the Front Range with hazardous air pollution and threatened water supplies in critical mountain watersheds. The Colorado State Forest Service says that about 2.4 million acres of Colorado forestland — two-thirds of which are owned by the federal government — are in urgent need of “treatment” to mitigate wildfire risk, at a potential cost of up to $4.2 billion.

Bennet’s proposal would allocate $40 billion to existing programs overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies, while making $20 billion available for grants to state, local and tribal governments and nonprofits. In addition to efforts to promote forest health, the new funds could be used for other restoration projects like cleaning up abandoned mines or combating invasive species, Bennet said.

“In a year where we are experiencing major drought and the three largest wildfires in state history, there’s no better time to invest in Colorado’s forests, watersheds and landscapes that drive economic activity across the west, employ thousands of Americans, and provide environmental and ecological benefits to our communities and wildlife,” Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said in a press release.

With just weeks remaining in the 116th Congress and ongoing negotiations over a COVID-19 relief package taking center stage, however, Bennet’s bill faces an uphill battle for passage — though Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives, has lobbied for funding for wildfire recovery to be included in pending relief legislation.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.